One high-heeled leg wagging up and down, Kitty Clemens sits in her hard plastic seat.
Under a mountain of hair, her sharp eyes gleam with satisfaction. After years of waiting, of fighting, of negotiating, the Manitou Springs City Council has approved major expansion of the AAA Four Diamond Award-winning Cliff House hotel in the heart of downtown. On this June night, Councilor Shannon Solomon votes against the project, but his voice is quickly drowned out.
Check. Another victory for Clemens.
In 2002, Clemens took the reins of Manitou's newly created Economic Development Council. Since then — depending upon whom you ask — she may or may not have been instrumental in Manitou's facelift.
One thing is absolutely certain: She's been divisive.
In fact, when Solomon abruptly quit Council earlier this month, he made it a point to cite his distrust of the economic development efforts led by Clemens, and his disgust with her allies — including Mayor Eric Drummond — who Solomon says seem to do anything to protect her.
Solomon isn't the only one eyeing Clemens. Others on Council say they still haven't figured out what she does. What they do know is that Drummond often publicly congratulates her, and that she was given more than $86,000 out of the city general fund this year.
So, what is it that Clemens does?
A call to Leslie Lewis, executive director of the Manitou Springs Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, was answered with a polite, "I'll get back to you on that." She did. But only to say that she really couldn't discuss what either the Chamber or the EDC did. At least not until their boards could meet and hammer out some details as to what they plan to do in the future.
Maybe it's easier to start with what Clemens is supposed to do.
In 2001, according to a recruitment ad, the new Manitou EDC director was expected to build relationships with residents, business and property owners; to use research to forecast business performance, to help existing businesses expand, and to attract new businesses; to set goals and devise plans for economic growth; to monitor governmental changes and their impact on the local economy; and to write grants.
By Clemens' own account — and according to reports she's released — she's done all that and more. Improvements along downtown Manitou Avenue are almost complete, the historic Spa Building's been renovated, the Cliff House will soon expand, vacancies are few, and businesses are better-mixed and more stable. The EDC — of which she's the only paid employee — has also created and staffed a downtown Business Improvement District.
Paul York, manager of the Cliff House and a member of the EDC board, sees it Clemens' way. He says his hotel's expansion is linked to the revitalization of downtown, which he says was fueled by the EDC.
Others, though, say the EDC is little more than a rich kids' club, comprised of the most wealthy local business owners.
Manitou has other organizations working on economic development, they argue, like the chamber, which runs the visitors bureau, does national advertising, and puts on major events. The aforementioned Business Improvement District advertises locally and works on beautification. And the Urban Renewal Authority focuses on revitalizing the east end of town.
Less is not more
While the city funds both the chamber and EDC, it is currently struggling with a $14,000 deficit and serious short-staffing.
The situation isn't pleasing everyone. On July 17, concerned citizen Fred Hyde wrote a letter to Council stating, "How ironic is it we as a city have an economic shortfall resulting in an inability to fund and fill critical city employee positions yet continue to spend extravagantly on a Director position for the Economic Development Council."
It's nearly certain now that Manitou will soon be receiving $12 million in loans and grants from the federal government to completely overhaul the city's water and sewer systems. The biggest municipal project Manitou has ever seen will likely begin this fall.
And the city's going to need a public works director to handle it. (Since late January, Mike Leslie has been serving as Manitou's finance director, deputy city administrator, city administrator and public works director.) That will cost about $65,000 a year, with the city general fund paying $32,500. The city also needs a code enforcement officer, estimated to cost $32,000 a year, and a city administrator at $96,000 a year.
Recently, the Chamber, the EDC and the BID agreed to combine some of their functions and refund the city $40,000. That's enough to pay for a public works director for the remainder of 2009, and cure the city's deficit. No word yet on how they'll do it, or whether the savings will be repeated next year.
When asked about Clemens, Mayor Eric Drummond — who once led the EDC board and is still a fan — gently refers to "some personality issues" that exist between certain people in town.
Others are more blunt.
"I want a vibrant Economic Development Council," Councilor Marc Snyder says. "I just don't want a group of bullies going around throwing their weight around."
Snyder says he's tired of "the politics of personal destruction" that he says Clemens and her allies employ. Rather than discuss issues politely, he says, they seek to "ostracize" anyone who disagrees with them. He says he got a taste of that once himself, when the EDC folks thought he had called the organization a "money pit." He says he never made the statement, but that didn't stop a stream of personal attacks.
Councilor Aimee Cox says it's inappropriate that EDC staff and volunteers are allowed to verbally attack Councilors during meetings. And Solomon says the aggression extends far beyond the halls of government.
"There are business owners in town that are intimidated by Kitty, and they feel like they're pushed around," he says. "The city's paying someone out of the taxpayer dollars; someone who runs around and makes people mad."
Hogging the kudos?
Clemens, by the way, says she's not the problem. Rather, she says, the animosity comes from a group of people upset that they haven't been able to force their agenda on the EDC and Chamber.
Adding to tensions, some say the EDC takes credit for work the community did. Clemens, for instance, says pushing downtown improvements was her achievement; both Snyder and longtime Councilor Donna Ford say those efforts predate the EDC's existence.
And while the EDC may help business, detractors say it doesn't always seem to care about residents.
Snyder and Cox say the EDC was highly critical of improvements to Soda Springs Park, which were carried out after a long public process. The problem? They thought the playground got in the way of commercial fairs and shows.
Drummond says the problems boil down to growing pains.
"Part of this is our community deciding where we go from here," he says. "Change creates anxiety."
But other councilors aren't taking the issue lightly. They want Council to discuss the EDC in depth as soon as possible. Whether or not they will is up to Drummond, who alone sets the Council's agenda.
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